Meursault By Albert Camus Testing the Boundaries of Algerian Conventional Society In this essay, I am going to explore Albert Camus use of Meursaults murder trial in The Stranger to note the absurdity of the defined social behavior in Algeria while forcing the reader to evaluate his or her own morality. Camus asks the reader to form a mental and emotional relationship with Meursault through the descriptive and, in the end, destructively honest narrative. He then asks the reader to depend not on the law, which in this novel represents conventional social behavior, but on this newfound relationship to decide Meursault fate. Camus introduction of Meursault uses straightforward and very honest language. While the reader is aware from the beginning that Meursault deviates from the norm, through factual, and almost play-by-play details, Meursault dares the reader to judge him, and we do.
We criticize him for not showing more emotion towards his mothers death. We expect him to show more affection towards Marie, whom he claims to love and we want him to exert a more forceful voice in the situation between Raymond and his girlfriend. However, we respect his honesty and appreciate his need to almost separate himself from the emotions that seem to drive us all a little crazy. Camus then challenges this respect and appreciation with a violent act. As the story reaches the climax with the murder, our opinions of Meursault change because, as Camus makes us aware, society has condemned him not for murder but for being different. Indeed, the gentlemen of the jury will take note of the fact.
And they will conclude that a stranger may offer a cup of coffee, but that beside the body of the one who brought him into the world, a son should have refused it. (91) Meursaults guilt, as the prosecutor points out, stems from his odd behavior over the loss of his mother. Unlike American society, although not by much, the Algerian social standards call for Meursault to weep in sorrow and be distraught during the funeral despite his relationship with his mother. As part of American society, we attempt to create our own meaning for Meursaults actions. We want his relationship with his mother to explain these actions.
On the other hand, perhaps, we want to say that he was “taught not to show is emotions.” American society searches for the psychological reasons for Meursaults actions. Our focus is not on the murder per say. It is on the reasons behind the murder. What made him snap? However, we must separate ourselves from what American society has taught us and focus only on what Camus tries to teach us about Algerian society. Algerian society is about getting to the core of Meursaults defiance not because it will help to better explain his actions, but because when one defies the rules of society he, or she, must pay. The trial is not a murder trial.
It is a trial of morals and emotion. Why else would the prosecutor focus so much on the death of Meursaults mother? Why else would the later part of the book turn into a self-evaluation of Meursault and of ourselves? During the preparation for the trial, the reader becomes increasingly aware of Meursaults sensitivity. Meursault has to explain his feelings and not his actions to the court, something that seems impossible for even the most socially acceptable. We feel pity for him because his past torments him. Camus uses this pity for Meursault.
He wants the reader to identify with Meursault and sympathize with his situation. Once Camus sets up the link between the reader and Meursault, he makes the reader resent the judges. Camus provokes the reader to resent the judges of Meursault by having us feel that the judges are questioning our behavior as well. This resentment towards the judges, and ultimately towards society, becomes the basis for our decision to either support or condemn Meursault. Camus forces the reader to revaluate his or her morals in order to avoid condemnation by society. We envy Meursault because he is able to be honest and true to himself, and although Meursault could have saved himself had he repented or showed remorse, he saves himself by not doing that, and this is what we respect because Meursault has done what we are afraid of doing: he questions society. Let us look at the actual murder. Meursault, in what seems to be an act of pure evil, fires an involuntary shot followed by four voluntary ones. The four voluntary and unnecessary shots start Meursaults process of questioning society, and the readers process of questioning him or her self.
As the judges connect Meursaults emotionless past to his crime, the reader explores exactly how they are like Meursault. Camus wants the reader to feel that at any moment society can condemn him or her in the same way that Meursault is condemned. This is not to say, however, that Camus want us to forget about the violent murder. Rather, Camus intentionally disassociates the act of the murder from the actual sentence. This separation reveals the absurdity of Algerian, and in many ways American society.
Camus needs the reader to believe that the court kills Meursault for his indifference, in order for the reader to feel unsatisfied with the verdict. Because we see Meursault as an innocent force, almost child like, we begin to question our own innocence. And yet, we are, because of societys conditioning, unable to separate the murder from the verdict. The reader, like the judges, begins to prosecute Meursault for opposing society, and uses the murder to justify this prosecution. Camus then, after the reader feels satisfied with not having defied society, uses Meursaults moment of self-evaluation to make the reader self-evaluate himself.
On page 121, Meursault asks, What did other peoples deaths or a mothers love matter to me; what did his God of the lives people choose of the fate they think they elect matter to me when were all elected the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers? ..What would it matter if he were accused of murder and then executed because he did not cry at his mothers funeral? Meursaults newfound awareness compels the reader to ask: “in what way am I Meursault?” “Am I guilty of being different?” “How will I act when a parent passes away?” “In prosecuting Meursault, the readers prosecute themselves.” Camus forces us to make a connection that is entirely different, better yet, independent of societys connection to murder and guilt. Camus has the reader put Meursault on trial to determine his own innocence. The Stranger, and ultimately the murder trial, is a process of self-awareness based not on what society has taught us, but on what Camus teaches us through Meursaults situation. Through this self-awareness, Camus is able to provide a valid argument against the absurdity of what society calls”appropriate behavior”. We see that there is no such thing as appropriate behavior because in the end, society condemns us all. The reader becomes Meursaults source of strength, Camus source of truth, and societys judges.